Review: The Breaking of Liam Glass by Charles Harris

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I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

The Breaking of Liam Glass
by Charles Harris

Marble City Publishing, 2017

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The verdict: Poignant and biting satire that brings laughter, sadness, and—most importantly—a strong call for change.

Going in, I knew The Breaking of Liam Glass was a satire, but for whatever reason, I expected an over-the-top detective spoof. What I found instead was a tight and suspenseful noir, featuring sharp wit and spot-on social commentary. Harris dives into London’s underbelly without the story ever feeling seedy or unfair, and as a result, he creates a brilliant novel on the press and perception, a tale of “fake news” that’s all too rooted in reality. I can see Harris’s background as a screenwriter in the close third-person narration hopping from character to character without ever breaking the action. Without giving any spoilers, I’ll say that after racing to the finish line I felt more lost than found. Maybe that’s the point. Liam Glass entertains and unsettles, and, as a society, we have to fight against the current.

It’s the spring of 2010 in London. Fourteen-year-old Liam Glass disappears while making a late-night ATM run for his mom, and the authorities soon find him stabbed and barely hanging on to life. Small-time journalist Jason Crowthorne catches a whiff of the story and decides this could finally be his big break. When a major sports agent offers his support, Jason crafts a heartwrenching narrative that will finally earn him professional recognition and his daughter’s approval—never minding whether or not the story has any ounce of truth to it. Yet as rumors circulate and actual facts come to light, Jason discovers the sea’s full of sharks, and he’s not the only one willing to use a fabricated headline to skyrocket his career. In a race against the deadline, Jason’s willingness to risk it all soon shows he has more to lose than he ever thought possible.

Home was a small studio flat in an old conversion; four very basic rooms reached by a fire escape. Jason ran up the steps, slammed the front door shut behind him. Then he pulled out his camera and looked again at the picture of the kid under the oxygen mask. He had a nose for stories, a good one. Maybe it hadn’t been twitching much recently, but he knew what worked and what didn’t.

As a character, Jason’s crafty and desperate, but sometimes his internal deliberations grow a bit tiresome. He’s neither horrible in a way that’s delightful nor hapless in a way that’s endearing. Much of what happens really is his fault, and it took a long while before I was ever on his side. Harris delivers the story over an improbably action-packed 24 hours, unfolding a domino effect of one bad choice after another. Nearly every character is self-seeking in some way or another, but nobody’s all bad. It’s a cast of people doing the wrong things for the right reasons, or maybe the right ones for the wrong reasons, or maybe real life’s as gray and sloppy as London in the rain. The Breaking of Liam Glass holds the tension of our sensational tabloid addiction alongside a bitter apathy toward progress. Recommended for anyone with a passion for current events, or anyone brave enough to hold a mirror to society, if only to find a way to break it.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell.
Be sure to check out Charles Harris’s writing or see more book reviews on this site.

If you’ve written a book you’d like me to consider for a review, find out more information and follow the submission guidelines here.

Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

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Artemis
by Andy Weir

Crown, 2017

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The verdict: With his trademark nerdiness, Weir delivers a well-imagined, entertaining thriller. Sometimes that’s all I want.

As a fan of Weir’s smart wit and geeky science in The Martian (after all, who isn’t?), I was glad to see more of the same in Artemis. It doesn’t have the full-scope problem solving or human-forces-that-join-us-together grandeur of Weir’s earlier novel, which won’t bother the genre fans but might disappoint some who jumped on the bandwagon after seeing the movie. Weir continues to nerd out with technical discussions and detailed asides, offering somewhat plausible, real-science sci-fi. The engineering and economic angles make this otherworldly science fiction surprisingly down to earth, and the voice has the same snark and humanity that makes The Martian so lovable. It’s not a sequel to his breakout title by any means, but I at least enjoyed the tighter setting and change of pace in the plot.

In the not-so-distant future, humans have a colony on the moon. Divided between ultra-rich tourists and the working class residents, the city of Artemis makes the perfect escape from earthly problems, or so at least its residents hope. Lifelong moon-dweller Jasmine Bashara wants to graduate from her career as a bottom-rung porter to one of the lunar elite, and she doesn’t mind the dishonest path to the top. Not only that, but Jasmine has a serious debt to pay off and needs cash more than anything. So when her side job as a small-time smuggler drags her into a much larger criminal operation, Jazz takes the risk in hopes of a life-altering payout. Her plans backfire, however, and soon Jazz is in way over her head with literally nowhere to run outside the protected bubbles of Artemis. Yet as Jazz turns the tables to investigate what went wrong, she finds that lunar politics go far beneath the surface. Jazz’s one shot out of this mess will jeopardize everything she holds dear, and she’ll need some help to pull it off.

No. I was a smuggler, not a saboteur. And something smelled off about the whole thing.
“I’m sorry, but this isn’t my thing,” I said. “You’ll have to find someone else.”
“I’ll give you a million slugs.”
“Deal.”

Weir mixes the fast-paced heist story with intriguing discussions about the near-future aluminum industry on the moon and the implications of a colony in lunar gravity. Even more so, he makes social considerations alongside the scientific. Refreshingly, it’s not just Americans running the moon’s economy. (It’s Kenyans, actually, and for logical reasons explained in the novel.) Alongside the brilliant creativity about the practical benefits and horrors of moon life, Weir throws in a few poignant observations on race and class, reminding readers that progress isn’t just about technology.  In terms of writing style, Artemis features a sassy, wisecracking first-person narrator with some lazy information dumps, but the delivery’s forgivable when the content’s this enriching. Although definitely recommended more for the engineering puzzles than the character development, Artemis celebrates both scientific and human achievement, seeing our weaknesses and triumphs. It’s a smart, enjoyable read, and sometimes that’s all I want from a book. Recommended for anyone who loves science fiction, crime thrillers, or dreaming about the world’s near future.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell.
Be sure to check out Andy Weir’s writing or see more book reviews on this site.

If you’ve written a book you’d like me to consider for a review, find out more information and follow the submission guidelines here.

Review: The Color of Fear by Wendy Wanner

Disclosure: This review contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for your support.
I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

The Color of Fear
by Wendy Wanner

Amazon, 2017

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The verdict: A genre-bending tale delivering strong characters, suspense, and just the right amount of occult.

I love thrillers with supernatural twists, and so The Color of Fear piqued my curiosity from the back cover alone. For Wendy Wanner’s debut novel, the book contains an impressive amount of research and thought. The story starts off as a cozy mystery, with Rachel as the uncharacteristic amateur sleuth and nothing especially grisly about the crime. At first, motives feel predictable and dramatic irony comes a bit heavy. Yet Wanner brings new layers as the story progresses, and the supernatural threads mix well with the everyday events, leading to a strange if not thought-provoking metaphysical conclusion.

Following her brother’s suicide in Scotland, Rachel Steerley returns to her Massachusetts home and successful career as an interior decorator. Two years later, the ghosts of her past return to her idyllic small-town life. When long-standing socialite Greta Wallace drowns in her bathtub, only Rachel sees the death as suspicious. Eerie sensations follow Rachel’s every move, and when the body count rises, she determines to discover the truth on her own. Everyone’s a suspect—from antique bookseller Brian and his vicar brother, to ruthless real estate tycoon Gavin and his secretary Daphne, to Rachel’s childhood neighbor and newfound love interest, Douglass. At the center of the mystery lies Rachel’s own fear of drowning, stemming from a horrible accident that claimed her parents’ lives. For answers, Rachel must dive into the past—both the town’s history and her own.

Greta shivered as if the unnaturally icy wind was blowing right through the glass. “I have had the strangest feeling lately, as if everything is closing in on me. This town feels oppressive and I don’t seem to have any privacy or freedom to do what I want.” She paused only a moment then shook her head. “No, it’s silly, let’s go inside.”

While the dialogue feels oddly literary in an otherwise modern setting—more than once is a character “debonair”—perhaps I just don’t spend enough time with old-money New England elite to relate. The page count is a bit high; the first few chapters have a pretty heavy information dump and a large cast of characters. Rachel’s personal history takes a backseat after an emotional opening, and at times I wanted more skin in the game for her. Wanner evens out the pacing as things go along, however, and each character receives enough attention to justify his or her presence by the end. Considering the length, Wanner does a great job extending the suspense without leaving the reader bored. Critical readers might find some of the character head-hopping distracting, while others may enjoy seeing the thoughts and feelings of each member of the suspect pool. As a slight trigger warning, the novel contains a literal sermon against abortion. Full of old mansions and modern decor, Wanner’s The Color of Fear explores what it means to “live in our pasts,” both healing from personal trauma and embracing our family heritage. It’s hard to classify this genre-bending tale. Recommended for anyone who loves Victorian-style drama or country romance, especially those in the mood for a mystery.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell.
Be sure to check out Wendy Wanner’s writing, visit her website, or see more book reviews on this site.

If you’ve written a book you’d like me to consider for a review, find out more information and follow the submission guidelines here.